I have four kids. And, four kids is a lot to most people. But, today I got to be a “dad” to hundreds of kids. My oldest son, Anthony, is 6 years old. In fact, today is his sixth birthday. That’s why I took the day off from work at CBS 11 to spend it with him. But it turns out that on his birthday I was the one who got the real gift.
Anthony is in kindergarten at Bette Perot Elementary School in the Keller ISD. It’s a great school. Just ask the state of Texas. Bette Perot consistently gets top ratings. After spending a day there it’s clear why.
Because of an innovative program that promotes father involvement, called Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students), I was able to spend the entire school day on campus. But, I didn’t spend the entire day with Anthony. In fact, we were only together a few times and for just a few minutes at a time.
I got to help kindergartners with reading skills, talk to a class about my work as a journalist as well as my job at CBS 11. I also helped fourth graders with math. I must confess I had to use the calculator in my iPhone to double check my math work. TV journalists are notoriously bad at math. I was much better at fourth grade multiplication and division when I was in 2nd grade, than I am now. And of course, as you’ve probably figured out by now, I learned a lot from being around so many children and teachers too.
Watch D.O.G.S. was founded at one school in Arkansas, according to its website. It started in 1998. Since then the organization behind it, the National Center for Fathering, says hundreds of thousands of fathers and father figures have roamed the halls of schools across the country as part of Watch D.O.G.S. You see, it’s not just for dads. Stepdads, granddads and other father figures are welcome to take part as long as they pass a background check.
The point of it all is to see men at school, men who are positive role models, men who add to the sense of security in the schools. It doesn’t take long to see why a school like Bette Perot could use a few positive male influences around.
A two second glance at the bulletin board will show you why. It’s covered with the smiling, kind faces of the staff at Bette Perot. And, there’s not a single man on the board. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not sure why, but I’m actually more comfortable knowing son is in the hands of female teachers each day. Despite the lack of male teachers, or because of it, men are very welcome here.
And the children are excited to have us.
I did start the day with Anthony’s class. He’s in Mrs. (Leslie) Smith’s kindergarten class. There are 20 in the class. And all of children seemed to be thrilled to have a dad in the classroom this morning.
They all knew why I was there, calling me the “watch dog dad.” And they all wanted to spend some time in the hallway learning with the “watch dog.” Anthony was beaming with pride. It was clear he was especially happy to have HIS dad as the “watch dog dad.”
I sat cross-legged in the hallway with three kids at a time playing a match game designed to help them learn their sounds.
Besides helping teachers teach, I spent a great deal of time simply wandering the halls. A Watch D.O.G. dad is in some ways literally a watch dog.
Between the stints helping with classes, I was tasked to look out for anything suspicious, make sure doors were secured, and to alert the office to anything that just didn’t look right.
Like most days at Bette Perot though, the worst thing I saw was a few snotty noses in the cafeteria. I was however able to see just about every corner of Anthony’s school. I don’t think most parents get a chance to do that. As I walked the halls something started to happen. Children were holding their hands above their heads as I approached. I realized that they weren’t just raising their hands. They wanted “high fives.” I bet I ended up getting and giving 200 high fives today.
I got to help supervise recess, and witness the maddening cuteness of that. As one teacher put it, “there are a lot of them and they are small. But, they’re also very cute.” I talked to a group of boys whose ninja role playing got a little too rough.
I answered a flurry of questions from curious kids. I gave more high fives. And, I was proud to see that my little man was getting a lot of attention from the little girls chasing him around the swing set. In the cafeteria, I helped a little girl cut up her cheese pizza.
She wanted to eat it with a fork. I opened what seemed like three hundred packets of salad dressing and “GoGurt” for the lunching children whose little fingers couldn’t tear them apart. I gave more high fives and a few fist bumps.
I spent time with children who were clearly already little geniuses. I spent time with children who struggled a bit with their math, just like me. And I spent time with great teachers who are trying to help the children have the brightest futures possible.
But it was when I was walking the halls by myself that I really got to think about all of it, and the importance and impact really hit me. There’s school work hanging in every hall. And, as I walked I examined it.
There were drawings of George Washington, and short stories about Christopher Columbus’ voyage. There were completed math problems, artwork and a lot more. I began to think of each one of them as a gift to each child who had created it.
Each item represented some knowledge that child didn’t possess before. And that knowledge was a gift from a teacher.
At the end of the day, I made my way back to Mrs. Smith’s class to have a birthday cupcake with Anthony and his classmates. And, on the way there I saw a piece of artwork with his name on it. And it read “this year I want to learn to be an ‘arnot.’” I knew what he meant. He wants to be an “astronaut.” But that’s a pretty big word and he’s only six.
That’s when it became clear to me what Anthony’s biggest gift from his teacher had been these past few months. It was his ability to read. Before he started kindergarten, he could only recognize his name and a few other words.
Now, he tears through his school books like there’s no tomorrow. And there is literally a whole new world before him. He loves school and he loves to read. And we have Mrs. Smith to thank for that. It’s a gift that he will carry with him his entire life.
But, if he really wants to read a book in space (someday) he’ll have to be a whole lot better at math than his dad.
If you’d like to learn more about Watch D.O.G.S. visit www.Fathers.com or call your child’s school to see if they participate.